Editorials

Curfew relief for economy, but don’t drop your guard

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A police officer stops a motorist violating curfew rules in Kisumu on June 18, 2021. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NMG

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Summary

  • The biggest beneficiaries of the policy change include players in the transport, tourism and entertainment industries.
  • It is a scandal that scores of Kenyans lost their lives at the hands of police, who were ostensibly enforcing the curfew.
  • Government officials and politicians have been holding packed rallies and other gatherings where most of the attendees were not wearing masks.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s removal of the dusk-to-dawn curfew is highly commendable as it will help to further boost the economy and unlock other social activities that have been suppressed for more than a year.

The decision comes on the back of reduced coronavirus infections and related deaths.

The biggest beneficiaries of the policy change include players in the transport, tourism and entertainment industries who have suffered the most from the pandemic-related restrictions.

Bus companies offering long-distance passenger travel laid off hundreds of workers, including drivers, while travellers have been forced to pay higher fares for the limited daytime services.

Bars, nightclubs and other entertainment joints have been operating for a few hours of the night, limiting their business.

Industries to recover

It is now expected that the lifting of the curfew will enable the affected industries to recover, lifting the overall economy which has benefited from incremental removal of restrictions starting July last year.

This will be critical in reversing the sharp spike in unemployment and loss of wages seen in the early months of the crisis when more than one million Kenyans were retrenched while others suffered pay cuts.

Equally important is the elimination of opportunities to oppress the citizenry by the security services.

It is a scandal that scores of Kenyans lost their lives at the hands of police, who were ostensibly enforcing the curfew.

The police killed at least six people within the first 10 days of the imposition of the curfew on March 27, 2020, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

The report says the police, without apparent justification, shot and beat people at markets or on the way home from work, even before the start of curfew hours.

Police also broke into homes and shops, extorted money from residents or looted food in locations across the country. In July 2020, Kenyan organisations documented 15 cases of killings by police across Kenya while enforcing coronavirus control measures. There have been other killings and violence since then.

In many ways, it was becoming increasingly unfair and untenable to leave the curfew in place while the political class routinely engages in activities that make a mockery of the restrictions.

Government officials and politicians have been holding packed rallies and other gatherings where most of the attendees were not wearing masks. This is despite a ban on such meetings.

While the removal of the curfew is a sign of confidence that the country is beating back the pandemic, the government must ensure that this is not read as a victory.

A consistent and regular message should be sent out encouraging people to get vaccinated and to maintain the behaviour that will ensure the low Covid and infection numbers stay that way.

The most important are wearing masks, social distancing and sanitising.

SUPERSPREADER EVENTS

There is a particular risk of superspreader events ahead of the next General Election as politicians hold rallies across the country to drum up support for their parties and candidates.

It would be tragic to allow complacency to set it, potentially reversing the gains made in the war on the pandemic and necessitating the reinstatement of the restrictions.

We should aim to move forward, socially and economically, even as we adapt and learn to live with the virus.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects Kenya economy’s real GDP growth to jump to 7.6 percent this year, up from a 0.1 percent contraction in 2020. Let us build on the momentum.